Jeff Colella – Love Music and it will love you back: Essays on Music
(Mouthpiece Music. 118pp. e-book review by John Arnett)
How to distil the essence of music and music making, using words only? Arguably impossible, certainly challenging, this is the task Jeff Colella has set himself in this e book. With the exception of one chart (“Voyage” by Kenny Barron) and a number of chord and scale names in the chapter on “Harmonic Skeletons”, no notation is employed. In the preface he makes the point very clearly (and modestly) that “if there is one idea or one utterance within these pages that opens a new door for someone or provides a new perspective … I will be eternally grateful.” In truth, it is the reader that should be grateful; I for one found a good many practical and illuminating approaches and ways of thinking here to draw upon in playing and practising.
Jeff Colella is a Los Angeles-based post-bop pianist, accompanist, composer, arranger and educator, having worked as pianist and musical director for the likes of Jack Jones, Lou Rawls and Anita O’Day, as well as with his own trio. The book is arranged into 18 short-ish chapters, drawing upon this wealth of theoretical and practical experience. Only one chapter is specifically about the piano, but even there, there are lessons that any instrumentalist could learn from. To pick out just two examples – “technique does not determine the sounds we want to make, but the other way round” and “we can’t collect tension as we play, we must release it as we play”. Chapter 7 “Harmonic Skeletons” did assume a good deal of prior theoretical knowledge of harmony, chord extensions, chord scales and modes, but this was not generally the case. Also, even here, the key point that instrumentalists, when soloing, need to think not in terms of individual chords and chord scales (vertical), but in expressive phrases (horizontal) is a valuable and accessible one to take away and apply.
Reading the book, it was striking the extent to which we rely on metaphor and analogy to describe and understand musical ideas – conversation, question and answer, colour, texture, density, abstraction, gesture, direction and movement, travel, cooking … These are all immensely helpful ways of communicating and grounding key concepts. For example, comping is described as “supporting the conversation rather than leading” or dominating it (You don’t need to play every single chord – another useful tip) Practising is seen as analogous to maintaining fitness in sport: “We practise the fundamentals so that we can depend upon them in performance”, rather than saying “I already know how to do this”. There are a wide range of illustrative references, from Aristotle (“we find meaning in life in relation to other people” and the same applies to music…) to Chick Corea, to Thelonius Monk’s complaint to Miles Davis that he couldn’t “hear the melody” in a particular solo.
I felt that the book hit its stride in chapter 5 (“Phrasing”) when it started to focus on specific and useable topics and learning points – time, improvisation, melodic variation, listening, practising, sight reading, repertoire, voicing, comping, memorisation, to mention the main areas covered. The concept of “shell voicings” for chords, for example, just using say the 3rd and the 7th in the scale rather than all the notes in the chord, was a pertinent and immediately useful one, from the chapter on voicing. The first few chapters could perhaps have benefited from more careful editing and proof reading, but that said, for a relatively short book, there is a great deal here to enjoy and absorb.
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